Possessing the Secret of Joy
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A woman must come to terms with the circumcision she endured as a child in Africa
In Tashi's tribe, the Olinka, young girls undergo circumcision as an initiation into the community. Tashi manages to avoid this fate at first, but when pressed by tribal leaders, she submits. Years later, married and living in America as Evelyn Johnson, Tashi's inner pain emerges. As she questions why such a terrifying, disfiguring sacrifice was required, she sorts through the many levels of subjugation with which she's been burdened over the years.
In Possessing the Secret of Joy, Alice Walker exposes the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation in an unforgettable, moving novel.
their way out and escape punishment altogether. She frowned, and for a moment looked like her other self. We heard the bigwigs down at the other end of the corridor. All day long they played cards, kept their radios blaring and drank beer. Unlike my mother’s, their cells were never locked, and so they visited each other far into the night. They would sometimes visit us, and bring my mother an occasional beer, which she accepted. I had not understood “bigwig” until I saw the judges at my
M’Lissa all my life; that she had in fact delivered me into the world, having been a great friend of my mother and in fact mother of the entire village. I explained I had come from America, where I now lived, even though Olinka by birth, and that I hoped to spend time with M’Lissa, perhaps after her other guests had gone. What is your name? she asked softly. Tell her it is Tashi, Catherine’s, no, Nafa’s daughter, who went to America with the son of the missionary. She turned. Out of habit I
she’d told me over the years of our growing up. That Dura had been her favorite sister. That she had been headstrong and boisterous and liked honey in her porridge so much she’d sometimes stolen a portion of Tashi’s share. That she had been very excited during the period leading up to her death. Suddenly she had become the center of everyone’s attention; every day there were gifts. Decorative items mainly: beads, bracelets, a bundle of dried henna for reddening hair and palms, but the odd pencil
know, do mainly homosexual men and intravenous drug users get the disease in America, while here there are as many women dying as men? Who infects the children? Why are there more little girls dying than boys? Among the wealthy Olinkans there is widespread denial that anything is wrong. They keep their dying relatives at home. It is mainly the poor we see. A gaunt mother staggers in, her emaciated, fifty-pound husband on her back, her children trailing behind. If there is room on the floor—if
African countries and cultures of genital cutting of female children and young women. It had been three days of intense testimony, much sadness, anger, weeping. Understanding. Pratibha and I had been among the weepers several times during the gathering, because it was overwhelming to see that so many Africans, from many and diverse places, had come to discuss ending something that so deeply scarred and undermined the health and well-being of the continent of Africa itself. We cried at everything,